In her short piece “Men in Power” (Vital Signs, September) Nicole Kooistra describes a men’s organization at the University of Chicago that grew out of a satirical article, and then proceeds to berate the organization for its pursuits (such as developing professional contacts and learning about prostate cancer), the appearance of its members (“perfectly groomed, cologne-scented, pink-shirted”), and its failure to teach men “how to be men.” She would prefer that such an organization instruct its members in how to grill, throw a football, and wear flannel shirts.
I frankly find this a not only disturbing view of the purpose of attending university but a shockingly limited understanding of manhood (and its proper appearance) to be held by a contributor to Chronicles. The places for a man to learn how to be a man are in his father’s home, and then within his community of extended family, neighbors, sports teams, etc., where he can learn his responsibilities and how to meet them. Universities are where students go to gain knowledge both general and particular, and incidentally to gain a broader group of acquaintances and “contacts” that will help them along in life. Colleges and universities founded along particular religious (or otherwise) lines can certainly strengthen a young man’s upbringing or disposition, but they cannot be accredited as academic institutions without at least pretending to teach him something. That American universities often fail even to instruct students in very basic subjects does not, however, make them responsible for other areas of the students’ lives—such as supplying them with a come-lately formation of behavior. I agree with Miss Kooistra’s lack of admiration for the student who wastes his free time at college joining an advocacy group, but I have nothing but scorn for the college-age man who would look to a campus organization to learn to shoot guns or pitch a tent or any of the things that his father or scout master should have taught him.
I must take Miss Kooistra to task in particular for her disapproval of men wearing Oxford shirts, pink or otherwise. There is no better ensemble for any grown man than some combination of a well-fitting button-down shirt, trousers, tie, and a jacket. And of course, a grown man should see that he is “perfectly groomed” before donning the aforementioned articles. This once very common manner of dressing for men is particularly well suited to the work of a student—that is, for attending classes and lectures—or for any meeting pertaining to a business career. Students, while on campus as such, are not called upon to chop wood, drive trucks, go fishing, or do any of the several things for which a flannel shirt might be in order. It is with pride that I describe to new acquaintances the dress tradition of my own alma mater, The University of the South, which students even in these degenerate times embrace of their own accord: jacket and tie (complete with an Oxford) for the gentlemen, skirts or dresses for the ladies. We who chose to attend The University of the South took the time voluntarily to dress carefully for class out of respect for the institution, for our professors, and for the work (including sometimes attending campus organization meetings) that we aimed to take seriously. I hesitate to suggest that these differences of opinion on sartorial decorum could be regional. I grew up in the Midwest myself, with exactly these same assumptions. There are many things to dislike, I am sure, about many men who wear pink Oxford shirts. But perhaps the habitual wearing of a well-fitted, becoming shirt should be regarded as a laudable effort at some degree of mature masculinity, rather than as a mark against their manliness. I have no doubt that Miss Kooistra will agree with me in thinking that men are capable of learning more than how to tackle or fish (such as Latin or chemistry or even “business”), for which they seek admittance to university, without abandoning their manhood. And so being, they should be capable of dressing more carefully than 12-year-old boys on a weekend camping trip.
Miss Kooistra Replies:
The main point of my article was not to “berate the organization for its pursuits,” or to advise men on how to dress, but to point out that there is something seriously wrong in a nation whose young men feel compelled to form advocacy groups dedicated to “maleness” that are totally devoid of its defining features. Mrs. Lacey writes that she shares my “lack of admiration for the student who wastes his free time at college joining an advocacy group . . . ” We seem, then, to be in fundamental agreement.
Mrs. Lacey does, however, charge me with expressing several views that would justify Chronicles in firing me instantly. She correctly notes that I would prefer an organization like Men in Power “instruct its members in how to grill, throw a football, and wear flannel shirts,” and she finds this “a disturbing view” of “the purpose of attending universities.” Had I said anything whatsoever about grilling, flannel, and football being the purpose of a university, I would accept her criticism entirely, as such a view would make me rather like the leftists who believe universities exist to make us more “tolerant” of “diversity.” Universities should be places where students are taught to think and to appreciate the body of thought we have inherited, and I think Mrs. Lacey agrees with me entirely on that point.
What seems to have provoked her response was the view: “Still, it would have been better if Saltarelli’s article were written in earnest—and if MiP followed the article’s plan. Imagine a campus organization where guys actually learned how to do guy stuff—play tackle football, grill, shoot guns, pitch a tent, fish and hunt. . . . Such a group would have had practical benefits.” Note my word choice—better. Not best. Like Mrs. Lacey, I believe that men should learn how to be men at home and in their extended communities. School is no place to learn the responsibilities inherent to one’s sex. Unfortunately, as a result of a number of deficiencies that are routinely discussed in these pages, men often don’t learn how to be men. So if these young bucks are going to go off to college and do something as effeminate as joining an advocacy group, I would rather those groups at least teach “guy stuff.” MiP is not teaching men how to be men according to the Western tradition. It is essentially identical to any other pre-professional organization on campus, except for the fact that its membership is predominantly male, and, according to its website, it fosters “an intellectual approach to male problems.” I wonder what kinds of “problems” these might be. How to support a wife and children in a collapsing economy? Maintaining spousal and fatherly authority in a world that derides both? Protecting one’s family from harm in a society coming apart at the seams? If the men of an “advocacy group” aren’t going to wrestle with such problems, then please, let them at least do something useful, such as learning how to put venison on the table. They can write résumés at an advising office, and making contacts is something done more on an informal basis (“Hey man, want to grab a beer after class?”) than in a formal group setting. Mrs. Lacey believes that my preference for a group that grills demonstrates my “shockingly limited understanding of manhood.” On the contrary. I simply prefer that men do male things if they are going to gather, rather than discuss—at 18-22 years old!—the importance of building a 401(k).
Mrs. Lacey also writes, “I must take Miss Kooistra to task in particular for her disapproval of men wearing Oxford shirts, pink or otherwise. There is no better ensemble for any grown man than some combination of a well-fitting button-down shirt, trousers, tie, and a jacket.” I assume she objects to my statement, “No pink Oxford shirts allowed.” Far be it from me not to appreciate a man wearing a suit and an Oxford. The point of that sentence was the color, not the cut, and even that was meant more as a humorous example than as a serious criticism. (I shudder to think of what my father would say if I were to bring home a man in pink, whether an Oxford or a polo.) Perfectly groomed, cologne-scented, pink-shirted guys can, I suppose, still be considered “manly,” although, rarely being “perfectly groomed” myself, I would have a difficult time accepting a man who was. My comments, and my subsequent praise of my friend’s fraternity instituting a “flannel day,” were a criticism of what is known as the “metrosexual” and nothing more. Grown men should, of course, dress in a manner appropriate to their position in life.
From her closing comments, I believe Mrs. Lacey and I agree that the truly well-formed man would be capable of much more than flipping a steak with panache or shooting a clay pigeon in midair. Such a man would also be well educated—preferably knowing a little Latin and chemistry, as well as enough of history and politics to understand his own world—and also courteous to all, confident and dutiful in both his work and his home, and always dressed appropriately for whatever task he faces. He would understand Saint Paul’s admonition, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”
A group such as Men in Power teaches men only that there are too many women’s-advocacy groups around. Their solution is to retreat into a corner and form their own, hardly a masculine way of confronting a problem. I shudder to think what such “men” will do should anything threaten the happiness and well-being of the women and children who will one day depend upon them.